THE BEST SHORT STORIES OF 1919 AND THE YEARBOOK OF THE AMERICAN SHORT STORY
EDITED BY EDWARD J. O'BRIEN
EDITOR OF "THE BEST SHORT STORIES OF 1915" "THE BEST SHORT STORIES OF 1916" "THE BEST SHORT STORIES OF 1917" "THE BEST SHORT STORIES OF 1918," ETC.
BOSTON SMALL, MAYNARD & COMPANY PUBLISHERS
Copyright, 1918, by Margaret C, Anderson, Charles Scribner's Sons, Smart Set Company, Inc., and The Century Company.
Copyright, 1919, by The Boston Transcript Company.
Copyright, 1919, by The Century Company, Harper & Brothers, The Bellman Company, The Pictorial Review Company, The Ridgway Company, The Curtis Publishing Company, The American Hebrew, and The McCall Company.
Copyright, 1920, by Gulielma Fell Alsop, Sherwood Anderson, Edwina Stanton Babcock, Djuna Barnes, Frederick Orin Bartlett, Agnes Mary Brownell, Maxwell Struthers Burt, James Branch Cabell, Horace Fish, Susan Glaspell Cook, Henry Goodman, Richard Matthews Hallet, Joseph Hergesheimer, Will E. Ingersoll, Calvin Johnston, Howard Mumford Jones, Ellen N. La Motte, Elias Lieberman, Mary Heaton O'Brien, and Anzia Yezierska.
Copyright, 1920, by Small, Maynard & Company, Inc.
* * * * *
TO ANZIA YEZIERSKA
* * * * *
BY WAY OF ACKNOWLEDGMENT
Grateful acknowledgment for permission to include the stories and other material in this volume is made to the following authors, editors, and publishers:
To the Century Company, Miss Margaret C. Anderson, Editor of The Little Review, Harper & Brothers, The Bellman Company, The Pictorial Review Company, Charles Scribner's Sons, The Ridgway Company, The Curtis Publishing Company, The Smart Set Company, Inc., The Editor of The American Hebrew, The McCall Company, Miss G. F. Alsop, Mr. Sherwood Anderson, Miss Edwina Stanton Babcock, Miss Djuna Barnes, Mr. Frederick Orin Bartlett, Miss Agnes Mary Brownell, Mr. Maxwell Struthers Burt, Mr. James Branch Cabell, Mr. Horace Fish, Mrs. George Cram Cook, Mr. Henry Goodman, Mr. Richard Matthews Hallet, Mr. Joseph Hergesheimer, Mr. Will E. Ingersoll, Mr. Calvin Johnston, Mr. Howard Mumford Jones, Miss Ellen N. La Motte, Mr. Elias Lieberman, Mrs. Mary Heaton O'Brien, and Miss Anzia Yezierska.
Acknowledgments are specially due to The Boston Evening Transcript for permission to reprint the large body of material previously published in its pages.
I shall be grateful to my readers for corrections, and particularly for suggestions leading to the wider usefulness of this annual volume. In particular, I shall welcome the receipt, from authors, editors, and publishers, of stories published during 1920 which have qualities of distinction, and yet are not printed in periodicals falling under my regular notice. Such communications may be addressed to me at Bass River, Cape Cod, Massachusetts.
E. J. O.
[Note 1: The order in which the stories in this volume are printed is not intended as an indication of their comparative excellence; the arrangement is alphabetical by authors.]
PAGE INTRODUCTION. By the Editor xiii
THE KITCHEN GODS. By G. F. Alsop 3 (From The Century)
AN AWAKENING. By Sherwood Anderson 24 (From The Little Review)
WILLUM'S VANILLA. By Edwina Stanton Babcock 34 (From Harper's Magazine)
A NIGHT AMONG THE HORSES. By Djuna Barnes 65 (From The Little Review)
LONG, LONG AGO. By Frederick Orin Bartlett 74 (From The Bellman)
DISHES. By Agnes Mary Brownell 82 (From The Pictorial Review)
THE BLOOD-RED ONE. By Maxwell Struthers Burt 96 (From Scribner's Magazine)
THE WEDDING-JEST. By James Branch Cabell 108 (From The Century)
THE WRISTS ON THE DOOR. By Horace Fish 123 (From Everybody's Magazine)
"GOVERNMENT GOAT." By Susan Glaspell 147 (From The Pictorial Review)
THE STONE. By Henry Goodman 167 (From The Pictorial Review)
TO THE BITTER END. By Richard Matthews Hallet 178 (From The Saturday Evening Post)
THE MEEKER RITUAL. By Joseph Hergesheimer 200 (From The Century)
THE CENTENARIAN. By Will E. Ingersoll 225 (From Harper's Magazine)
MESSENGERS. By Calvin Johnston 237 (From The Saturday Evening Post)
MRS. DRAINGER'S VEIL. By Howard Mumford Jones 269 (From The Smart Set)
UNDER A WINE-GLASS. By Ellen N. La Motte 297 (From The Century)
A THING OF BEAUTY. By Elias Lieberman 305 (From The American Hebrew)
THE OTHER ROOM. By Mary Heaton Vorse 312 (From McCall's Magazine)
"THE FAT OF THE LAND." By Anzia Yezierska 326 (From The Century)
THE YEARBOOK OF THE AMERICAN SHORT STORY, NOVEMBER, 1918, TO SEPTEMBER, 1919 351
Addresses of American Magazines Publishing Short Stories 353
The Biographical Roll of Honor of American Short Stories 355
The Roll of Honor of Foreign Short Stories in American Magazines 364
Volumes of Short Stories Published, November, 1918, to September, 1919: An Index 366
Articles on the Short Story, October, 1918, to September, 1919 372
Magazine Averages, November, 1918, to September, 1919 381
Index of Short Stories Published in American Magazines, November, 1918, to September, 1919 384
I should like to take the text for my remarks this year on the American Short Story from that notable volume of criticism, "Our America" by Waldo Frank. For the past year, it has been a source of much questioning to me to determine why American fiction, as well as the other arts, fails so conspicuously in presenting a national soul, why it fails to measure sincerely the heights and depths of our aspirations and failures as a nation, and why it lacks the vital elan which is so characteristic of other literatures. We know, of course, that we are present at the birth of a new national consciousness in our people, but why is it that this national consciousness seems so tangled in evasion of reality and in deep inhibitions that stultify it? Mr. Frank suggests for the first time the root of the cancer, and like a skilful surgeon points out how it may be healed. His book is the first courageous diagnosis of our weakness, and I think that the attentive and honest reader will not feel that he is unduly harsh or spiritually alienated from us. Briefly put, he finds that our failure lies in not distinguishing between idealism in itself and idealization of ourselves. We regard a man who challenges our self righteousness and self admiration as an enemy of the people. What we call our idealism is rooted in materialism and the goal we set ourselves virtuously is a goal of material comfort for ourselves, and, that once attained, perhaps also for others.
"No American can hope to run a journal, win public office, successfully advertise a soap or write a popular novel who does not insist upon the idealistic basis of his country. A peculiar sort of ethical rapture has earned the term American.... And the reason is probably at least in part the fact that no land has ever sprung so nakedly as ours from a direct and consciously material impulse...."
Mr. Frank goes on to point out that because our dreams are founded on a material earth, they none the less have a hope of heaven, and that the American story is really a debased form of wish fulfilment. "While the American was active in the external world—mature and conscious there—his starved inner life stunted his spiritual powers to infantile dimensions.... What would satisfy him must be a picture of the contents of real life, simplified and stunted to the dream-dimensions of the infant. And with just this sort of thing, our army of commercialised writers and dramatists and editors has kept him constantly supplied.
"There is nothing more horrible than a physically mature body moved by a childish mind. And if the average American production repels the sensitive American reader the reason is that he is witnessing just this condition.... The American is aware of the individual and social problems which inspire the current literatures of Europe. He is conscious of the conflicts of family and sex, of the contrasts of poverty and wealth. Of such stuff, also, are his books. Their body is mature: but their mental and spiritual motivation remains infantile. At once, it is reduced to an abortive simplification whereby the reality is maimed, the reader's wish fulfilled as it could only be in fairyland. But the fairyland is missing: the sweet moods of fairyland have withered in the arid sophistications of American life.... And yet the authors of this sort of book are hailed as realists, their work is acclaimed as social criticism and American interpretation. And when at times a solitary voice emerges with the truth, its message is attacked as morbid and a lie.
"It is easy to understand how optimism should become of the tissue of American life. The pioneer must hope. Else, how can he press on? The American editor or writer who fails to strike the optimistic note is set upon with a ferocity which becomes clear if we bear in mind that hope is the pioneer's preserving arm. I do not mean to discredit the validity of hope and optimism. I can honestly lay claim to both. America was builded on a dream of fair lands: a dream that has come true. In the infinitely harder problems of social and psychic health, the dream persists. We believe in our Star. And we do not believe in our experience. America is filled with poverty, with social disease, with oppression and with physical degeneration. But we do not wish to believe that this is so. We bask in the benign delusion of our perfect freedom.... Yet spiritual growth without the facing of the world is an impossible conception."
Mr. Frank instances the case of Jack London as an example of how inhibition may crush an artist, while rewarding him with material success. "The background of this gifted man was the background of America. He had gone back to primal stratum: stolen and labored and adventured. Finally, he had learned to write. Criticism grew in him. He pierced the American myths. He no longer believed in the Puritan God.... But what of this experience of passion and exploration lives in his books? Precisely, nothing. London became a 'best-seller.' He sold himself to a Syndicate which paid him a fabulous price for every word he wrote. He visited half the world, and produced a thousand words a day. And the burden of his literary output was an infantile romanticism under which he deliberately hid his own despair. Since the reality of the world he had come up through was barred to his pen, he wrote stories about sea-wolves and star-gazers: he wallowed in the details of bloody combat. If he was aware of the density of human life, of the drama of the conflict of its planes, he used his knowledge only as a measure of avoidance. He claimed to have found truth in a complete cynical dissolution. 'But I know better,' he says, 'than to give this truth as I have seen it, in my books. The bubbles of illusion, the pap of pretty lies are the true stuff of stories.'"
You may say that this is a hard saying. Perhaps it is. But as I was writing this morning, I received a letter from which I shall quote as a living human document. It came to me from an American short story writer whose work I have not had occasion to mention previously in these studies. This artist has done work which ranks with the very best that has been produced in America, but it very seldom finds its way into print for the very reasons that Mr. Frank has mentioned. There is no compromise in it. It offers us no vicarious satisfaction of our self esteem. "I have only a blind, consuming passion of ideas. And this blind passion of ideas drove me and hounded me till I had to tear loose from everything human to follow it. For two years I lived in savage isolation. I thought myself strong enough to live alone and think alone, but I am not. What writes itself in me is too intense for the light weight American magazines. My last story took me months to write and I had to ruin it by tacking on to it a happy ending or starve."
Now you may say that the writer of this letter should not have isolated himself from humanity. But in reality he did not. His stories are instinct with the very pulse of humanity. The American editor fears their reality, and so the writer really found that humanity had turned from him. Meanwhile, the unpublished work of this writer, who is dying, is America's spiritual loss. In the same way America lost Stephen Crane and Harris Merton Lyon and many another, and is losing its best writers to Europe every day. This annual volume is a book of documents, and that is my excuse for quoting from these two writers. You will find the indictment set forth more fully by a master in a recent novel, "The Mask," by John Cournos, another writer whom America has lost as it lost Whistler and Henry James.
It is not easy to play the part of Juvenal in this age, and I shall not do it again, but it is because my faith in America is founded on her weaknesses as well as her strength that I make this plea for sincerity and artistic freedom. America's literature must no longer be the product of a child's brain in a man's body, if it is to be a literature, and not a form of journalism.
To repeat what I have said in these pages in previous years, for the benefit of the reader as yet unacquainted with my standards and principles of selection, I shall point out that I have set myself the task of disengaging the essential human qualities in our contemporary fiction which, when chronicled conscientiously by our literary artists, may fairly be called a criticism of life. I am not at all interested in formulae, and organized criticism at its best would be nothing more than dead criticism, as all dogmatic interpretation of life is always dead. What has interested me, to the exclusion of other things, is the fresh, living current which flows through the best of our work, and the psychological and imaginative reality which our writers have conferred upon it.
No substance is of importance in fiction, unless it is organic substance, that is to say, substance in which the pulse of life is beating. Inorganic fiction has been our curse in the past, and bids fair to remain so, unless we exercise much greater artistic discrimination than we display at present.
The present record covers the period from November, 1918, to September, 1919, inclusive. During these eleven months, I have sought to select from the stories published in American magazines those which have rendered life imaginatively in organic substance and artistic form. Substance is something achieved by the artist in every act of creation, rather than something already present, and accordingly a fact or group of facts in a story only attain substantial embodiment when the artist's power of compelling imaginative persuasion transforms them into a living truth. The first test of a short story, therefore, in any qualitative analysis is to report upon how vitally compelling the writer makes his selected facts or incidents. This test may be conveniently called the test of substance.
But a second test is necessary if the story is to take rank above other stories. The true artist will seek to shape this living substance into the most beautiful and satisfying form, by skillful selection and arrangement of his material, and by the most direct and appealing presentation of it in portrayal and characterization.
The short stories which I have examined in this study, as in previous years, have fallen naturally into four groups. The first group consists of those stories which fail, in my opinion, to survive either the test of substance or the test of form. These stories are listed in the yearbook without comment or a qualifying asterisk. The second group consists of those stories which may fairly claim that they survive either the test of substance or the test of form. Each of these stories may claim to possess either distinction of technique alone, or more frequently, I am glad to say, a persuasive sense of life in them to which a reader responds with some part of his own experience. Stories included in this group are indicated in the yearbook index by a single asterisk prefixed to the title.
The third group, which is composed of stories of still greater distinction, includes such narratives as may lay convincing claim to a second reading, because each of them has survived both tests, the test of substance and the test of form. Stories included in this group are indicated in the yearbook index by two asterisks prefixed to the title.
Finally, I have recorded the names of a small group of stories which possess, I believe, an even finer distinction—the distinction of uniting genuine substance and artistic form in a closely woven pattern with such sincerity that these stories may fairly claim a position in our literature. If all of these stories by American authors were republished, they would not occupy more space than five novels of average length. My selection of them does not imply the critical belief that they are great stories. A year which produced one great story would be an exceptional one. It is simply to be taken as meaning that I have found the equivalent of five volumes worthy of republication among all the stories published during the eleven months under consideration. These stories are indicated in the yearbook index by three asterisks prefixed to the title, and are listed in the special "Rolls of Honor." In compiling these lists, I have permitted no personal preference or prejudice to consciously influence my judgment. To the titles of certain stories, however, in the "Rolls of Honor," an asterisk is prefixed, and this asterisk, I must confess, reveals in some measure a personal preference, for which, perhaps, I may be indulged. It is from this final short list that the stories reprinted in this volume have been selected.
It has been a point of honor with me not to republish an English story, nor a translation from a foreign author. I have also made it a rule not to include more than one story by an individual author in the volume. The general and particular results of my study will be found explained and carefully detailed in the supplementary part of the volume.
As in past years it has been my pleasure and honor to associate this annual with the names of Benjamin Rosenblatt, Richard Matthews Hallet, Wilbur Daniel Steele, and Arthur Johnson, so it is my wish to dedicate this year the best that I have found in the American magazines as the fruit of my labors to Anzia Yezierska, whose story, "Fat of the Land", seems to me perhaps the finest imaginative contribution to the short story made by an American artist this year.
EDWARD J. O'BRIEN.
OXFORD, ENGLAND, October 29, 1919.
THE BEST SHORT STORIES OF 1919
NOTE.—The order in which the stories in this volume are printed is not intended as an indication of their comparative excellence; the arrangement is alphabetical by authors.
THE KITCHEN GODS
[Note 2: Copyright, 1919, by The Century Company. Copyright, 1920, by Gulielma Fell Alsop.]
BY GULIELMA FELL ALSOP
From The Century
The lilies bloomed that day. Out in the courtyard, in their fantastic green-dragoned pots, one by one the tiny, ethereal petals opened. Dong-Yung went rapturously among them, stooping low to inhale their faint fragrance. The square courtyard, guarded on three sides by the wings of the house, facing the windowless blank wall on the fourth, was mottled with sunlight. Just this side of the wall a black shadow, as straight and opaque as the wall itself, banded the court with darkness; but on the hither side, where the lilies bloomed and Dong-Yung moved among them, lay glittering, yellow sunlight. The little box of a house where the gate-keeper lived made a bulge in the uniform blackness of the wall and its shadow. The two tall poles, with the upturned baskets, the devil-catchers, rose like flagstaffs from both sides of the door. A huge china griffon stood at the right of the gate. From beyond the wall came the sounds of early morning—the click of wooden sandals on cobbled streets and the panting cries of the coolies bringing in fresh vegetables or carrying back to the denuded land the refuse of the city. The gate-keeper was awake, brushing out his house with a broom of twigs. He was quite bald, and the top of his head was as tanned and brown as the legs of small summer children.
"Good morning, Honorable One," he called. "It is a good omen. The lilies have opened."
An amah, blue-trousered, blue-jacketed, blue-aproned, cluttered across the courtyard with two pails of steaming water.
"Good morning, Honorable One. The water for the great wife is hot and heavy." She dropped her buckets, the water splashing over in runnels and puddles at her feet, and stooped to smell the lilies. "It is an auspicious day."
From the casement-window in the right balcony a voice called:
"Thou dunce! Here I am waiting already half the day. Quicker! quicker!"
It sounded elderly and querulous, a voice accustomed to be obeyed and to dominate. The great wife's face appeared a moment at the casement. Her eyes swept over the courtyard scene—over the blooming lilies, and Dong-Yung standing among them.
"Behold the small wife, cursed of the gods!" she cried in her high, shrill voice. "Not even a girl can she bear her master. May she eat bitterness all her days!"
The amah shouldered the steaming buckets and splashed across the bare boards of the ancestral hall beyond.
"The great wife is angry," murmured the gate-keeper. "Oh, Honorable One, shall I admit the flower-girl? She has fresh orchids."
Dong-Yung nodded. The flower-girl came slowly in under the guarded gateway. She was a country child, with brown cheeks and merry eyes. Her shallow basket was steadied by a ribbon over one shoulder, and caught between an arm and a swaying hip. In the flat, round basket, on green little leaves, lay the wired perfumed orchids.
"How many? It is an auspicious day. See, the lilies have bloomed. One for the hair and two for the buttonholes. They smell sweet as the breath of heaven itself."
Dong-Yung smiled as the flower-girl stuck one of the fragrant, fragile, green-striped orchids in her hair, and hung two others, caught on delicate loops of wire, on the jade studs of her jacket, buttoned on the right shoulder.
"Ah, you are beautiful-come-death!" said the flower-girl. "Great happiness be thine!"
"Even a small wife can be happy at times." Dong-Yung took out a little woven purse, and paid over two coppers apiece to the flower-girl.
At the gate the girl and the gate-keeper fell a-talking.
"Is the morning rice ready?" called a man's voice from the room behind.
Dong-Yung turned quickly. Her whole face changed. It had been smiling and pleased before at the sight of the faint, white lily-petals and the sunlight on her feet and the fragrance of the orchids in her hair; but now it was lit with an inner radiance.
"My beloved Master!" Dong-Yung made a little instinctive gesture toward the approaching man, which in a second was caught and curbed by Chinese etiquette. Dressed, as she was, in pale-gray satin trousers, loose, and banded at the knee with wide blue stripes, and with a soft jacket to match, she was as beautiful in the eyes of the approaching man as the newly opened lilies. What he was in her eyes it would be hard for any modern woman to grasp: that rapture of adoration, that bliss of worship, has lingered only in rare hearts and rarer spots on the earth's surface.
Foh-Kyung came out slowly through the ancestral hall. The sunlight edged it like a bright border. The doors were wide open, and Dong-Yung saw the decorous rows of square chairs and square tables set rhythmically along the walls, and the covered dais at the head for the guest of honor. Long crimson scrolls, sprawled with gold ideographs, hung from ceiling to floor. A rosewood cabinet, filled with vases, peach bloom, imperial yellow, and turquoise blue, gleamed like a lighted lamp in the shadowy morning light of the room.
Foh-Kyung stooped to smell the lilies.
"They perfume the very air we breathe. Little Jewel, I love our old Chinese ways. I love the custom of the lily-planting and the day the lilies bloom. I love to think the gods smell them in heaven, and are gracious to mortals for their fragrance's sake."
"I am so happy!" Dong-Yung said, poking the toe of her slipper in and out the sunlight. She looked up at the man before her, and saw he was tall and slim and as subtle-featured as the cross-legged bronze Buddha himself. His long, thin hands were hid, crossed and slipped along the wrists within the loose apricot satin sleeves of his brocaded garment. His feet, in their black satin slippers and tight-fitting white muslin socks, were austere and aristocratic. Dong-Yung, when he was absent, loved best to think of him thus, with his hands hidden and his eyes smiling.
"The willow-leaves will bud soon," answered Dong-Yung, glancing over her shoulder at the tapering, yellowing twigs of the ancient tree.
"And the beech-blossoms," continued Foh-Kyung. "'The earth is the Lord's, and the fullness thereof.'"
"The foreign devil's wisdom," answered Dong-Yung.
"It is greater than ours, Dong-Yung; greater and lovelier. To-day, to-day, I will go to their hall of ceremonial worship and say to their holy priest that I think and believe the Jesus way."
"Oh, most-beloved Master, is it also permitted to women, to a small wife, to believe the Jesus way?"
"I will believe for thee, too, little Lotus Flower in the Pond."
"Tell me, O Teacher of Knowledge—tell me that in my heart and in my mind I may follow a little way whither thou goest in thy heart and in thy mind!"
Foh-Kyung moved out of the shadow of the ancestral hall and stood in the warm sunlight beside Dong-Yung, his small wife. His hands were still withheld and hidden, clasping his wrists within the wide, loose apricot sleeves of his gown, but his eyes looked as if they touched her. Dong-Yung hid her happiness even as the flowers hide theirs, within silent, incurving petals.
"The water is cold as the chill of death. Go, bring me hot water—water hot enough to scald an egg."
Foh-Kyung and Dong-Yung turned to the casement in the upper right-hand wing and listened apprehensively. The quick chatter of angry voices rushed out into the sunlight.
"The honorable great wife is very cross this morning." Dong-Yung shivered and turned back to the lilies. "To-day perhaps she will beat me again. Would that at least I had borne my lord a young prince for a son; then perhaps—"
"Go not near her, little Jewel. Stay in thine own rooms. Nay, I have sons a-plenty. Do not regret the childlessness. I would not have your body go down one foot into the grave for a child. I love thee for thyself."
"Now my lord speaks truly, as do the foreign devils to the shameless, open-faced women. I like the ways of the outside kingdom well. Tell me more of them, my Master."
Foh-Kyung moved his hands as if he would have withdrawn them from his apricot-colored sleeves. Dong-Yung saw the withheld motion, and swayed nearer. For a moment Dong-Yung saw the look in his eyes that engulfed her in happiness; then it was gone, and he looked away past her, across the opening lily-buds and the black rampart of the wall, at something distant, yet precious. Foh-Kyung moved closer. His face changed. His eyes held that hidden rapture that only Dong-Yung and the foreign-born priest had seen.
"Little Jewel, wilt thou go with me to the priest of the foreign-born faith? Come!" He withdrew his hand from his sleeve and touched Dong-Yung on the shoulder. "Come, we will go hand in hand, thou and I, even as the men and women of the Jesus thinking; not as Chinese, I before, and thou six paces behind. Their God loves men and women alike."
"Is it permitted to a small wife to worship the foreign-born God?" Dong-Yung lifted her eyes to the face of Foh-Kyung. "Teach me, O my Lord Master! My understanding is but young and fearful—"
Foh-Kyung moved into the sunlight beside her.
"Their God loves all the world. Their God is different, little Flower, from the painted images, full of blessings, not curses. He loves even little girl babies that mothers would throw away. Truly his heart is still more loving than the heart of a mother."
"And yet I am fearful—" Dong-Yung looked back into the shadows of the guest-hall, where the ancestral tablets glowed upon the wall, and crimson tapers stood ready before them. "Our gods I have touched and handled."
"Nay, in the Jesus way there is no fear left." Foh-Kyung's voice dropped lower. Its sound filled Dong-Yung with longing. "When the wind screams in the chimneys at night, it is but the wind, not evil spirits. When the summer breeze blows in at the open door, we need not bar it. It is but the summer breeze from the rice-fields, uninhabited by witch-ghosts. When we eat our morning rice, we are compelled to make no offering to the kitchen gods in the stove corner. They cannot curse our food. Ah, in the Jesus way there is no more fear!"
Dong-Yung drew away from her lord and master and looked at him anxiously. He was not seeing her at all. His eyes looked beyond, across the fragile lily-petals, through the solid black wall, at a vision he saw in the world. Dong-Yung bent her head to sniff the familiar sweet springtime orchid hanging from the jade stud on her shoulder.
"Your words are words of good hearing, O beloved Teacher. Nevertheless, let me follow six paces behind. I am not worthy to touch your hand. Six paces behind, when the sun shines in your face, my feet walk in the shadow of your garments."
Foh-Kyung gathered his gaze back from his visions and looked at his small wife, standing in a pool of sunshine before him. Overhead the lazy crows flew by, winging out from their city roosts to the rice-fields for the day's food.
"Tea-boiled eggs!" cried a vender from beyond the wall. A man stopped at the gate, put down his shoulder-tray of food, and bargained with the ancient, mahogany-scalped gate-keeper. Faint odors of food frying in oil stole out from the depths of the house behind him. And Dong-Yung, very quiet and passive in the pose of her body, gazed up at Foh-Kyung with those strange, secretive, ardent eyes. All around him was China, its very essence and sound and smell. Dong-Yung was a part of it all; nay, she was even the very heart of it, swaying there in the yellow light among the lily-petals.
"Precious Jewel! Yet it is sweeter to walk side by side, our feet stepping out into the sunlight together, and our shadows mingling behind. I want you beside me."
The last words rang with sudden warmth. Dong-Yung trembled and crimsoned. It was not seemly that a man speak to a woman thus, even though that man was a husband and the woman his wife, not even though the words were said in an open court, where the eyes of the great wife might spy and listen. And yet Dong-Yung thrilled to those words.
An amah called, "The morning rice is ready."
Dong-Yung hurried into the open room, where the light was still faint, filtering in through a high-silled window and the door. A round, brown table stood in the center of the room. In the corner of the room behind stood the crescentic, white plaster stove, with its dull wooden kettle-lids and its crackling straw. Two cooks, country women, sat in the hidden corner behind the stove, and poked in the great bales of straw and gossiped. Their voices and the answers of the serving amah filled the kitchen with noise. In their decorous niche at the upper right hand of the stove sat the two kitchen gods, small ancient idols, with hidden hands and crossed feet, gazing out upon a continually hungry world. Since time was they had sat there, ensconced at the very root of life, seemingly placid and unseeing and unhearing, yet venomously watching to be placated with food. Opposite the stove, on the white wall, hung a row of brass hooks, from which dangled porcelain spoons with pierced handles. On a serving-table stood the piled bowls for the day, blue-and-white rice patterns, of a thin, translucent ware, showing the delicate light through the rice seeds; red-and-green dragoned bowls for the puddings; and tiny saucer-like platters for the vegetables. The tea-cups, saucered and lidded, but unhandled, stood in a row before the polished brass hot-water kettle.
The whole room was full of a stirring, wakening life, of the crackling straw fire, of the steaming rice, all white and separate-kerneled in its great, shallow, black iron kettles, lidded with those heavy hand-made wooden lids, while the boiling tea water hissed, and spat out a snake of white steam.
With that curious democracy of China, where high and low alike are friendly, Dong-Yung hurried into her beloved kitchen.
"Has the master come?" asked the serving maid.
"Coming, coming," Dong-Yung answered. "I myself will take in his morning rice, after I have offered the morning oblations to the gods."
Dong-Yung selected two of the daintiest blue-and-white rice-pattern bowls. The cook lifted off the wooden lid of the rice-kettle, and Dong-Yung scooped up a dipperful of the snow-white kernels. On the tiny shelf before each god, the father and mother god of the household, Dong-Yung placed her offering. She stood off a moment, surveying them in pleased satisfaction—the round, blue bowls, with the faint tracery of light; the complacent gods above, red and green and crimson, so age-long, comfortably ensconced in their warm stove corner. She made swift obeisance with her hands and body before those ancient idols. A slant of sunshine swept in from the high windows and fell over her in a shaft of light. The thoughts of her heart were all warm and mixed and confused. She was happy. She loved her kitchen, her gods, all the familiar ways of Chinese life. She loved her silken, satin clothes, perfumed and embroidered and orchid-crowned, yet most of all she loved her lord and master. Perhaps it was this love for him that made all the rest of life so precious, that made each bowl of white rice an oblation, each daily act a glorification. So she flung out her arms and bent her head before the kitchen gods, the symbol of her ancient happiness.
"Dong-Yung, I do not wish you to do this any more."
Dong-Yung turned, her obeisance half arrested in mid-air. Foh-Kyung stood in the doorway.
"My lord," stammered Dong-Yung, "I did not understand your meaning."
"I know that, little Flower in my House. The new meaning is hard to understand. I, too, am but a blind child unused to the touch of the road. But the kitchen gods matter no more; we pray to a spirit."
Foh-Kyung, in his long apricot-colored garment, crossed the threshold of the kitchen, crossed the shadow and sunlight that striped the bare board floor, and stood before the kitchen gods. His eyes were on a level with theirs, strange, painted wooden eyes that stared forth inscrutably into the eating centuries. Dong-Yung stood half bowed, breathless with a quick, cold fear. The cook, one hand holding a shiny brown dipper, the other a porcelain dish, stood motionless at the wooden table under the window. From behind the stove peeped the frightened face of one of the fire-tenders. The whole room was turned to stone, motionless, expectant, awaiting the releasing moment of arousement—all, that is, but the creeping sunshine, sliding nearer and nearer the crossed feet of the kitchen gods; and the hissing steam fire, warming, coddling the hearts of the gods. Sun at their feet, fire at their hearts, food before them, and mortals turned to stone!
Foh-Kyung laughed softly, standing there, eye-level with the kitchen gods. He stretched out his two hands, and caught a god in each. A shudder ran through the motionless room.
"It is wickedness!" The porcelain dish fell from the hand of the cook, and a thousand rice-kernels, like scattered pearls, ran over the floor.
"A blasphemer," the fire-tender whispered, peering around the stove with terrified eyes. "This household will bite off great bitterness."
Foh-Kyung walked around the corner of the stove. The fire sparked and hissed. The sunshine filled the empty niche. Not since the building of the house and the planting of the tall black cypress trees around it, a hundred years ago, had the sunlight touched the wall behind the kitchen gods.
Dong-Yung sprang into life. She caught Foh-Kyung's sleeve.
"O my Lord and Master, I pray you, do not utterly cast them away into the burning, fiery furnace! I fear some evil will befall us."
Foh-Kyung, a green-and-gold god in each hand, stopped and turned. His eyes smiled at Dong-Yung. She was so little and so precious and so afraid! Dong-Yung saw the look of relenting. She held his sleeve the tighter.
"Light of my Eyes, do good deeds to me. My faith is but a little faith. How could it be great unto thy great faith? Be gentle with my kitchen gods. Do not utterly destroy them. I will hide them."
Foh-Kyung smiled yet more, and gave the plaster gods into her hands as one would give a toy to a child.
"They are thine. Do with them as thou wilt, but no more set them up in this stove corner and offer them morning rice. They are but painted, plastered gods. I worship the spirit above."
Foh-Kyung sat down at the men's table in the men's room beyond. An amah brought him rice and tea. Other men of the household there was none, and he ate his meal alone. From the women's room across the court came a shrill round of voices. The voice of the great wife was loudest and shrillest. The voices of the children, his sons and daughters, rose and fell with clear childish insistence among the older voices. The amah's voice laughed with an equal gaiety.
Dong-Yung hid away the plastered green-and-gold gods. Her heart was filled with a delicious fear. Her lord was even master of the gods. He picked them up in his two hands, he carried them about as carelessly as a man carries a boy child astride his shoulder; he would even have cast them into the fire! Truly, she shivered with delight. Nevertheless, she was glad she had hidden them safely away. In the corner of the kitchen stood a box of white pigskin with beaten brass clasps made like the outspread wings of a butterfly. Underneath the piles of satin she had hidden them, and the key to the butterfly clasps was safe in her belt-jacket.
Dong-Yung stood in the kitchen door and watched Foh-Kyung.
"Does my lord wish for anything?"
Foh-Kyung turned, and saw her standing there in the doorway. Behind her were the white stove and the sun-filled, empty niche. The light flooded through the doorway. Foh-Kyung set down his rice-bowl from his left hand and his ivory chop-sticks from his right. He stood before her.
"Truly, Dong-Yung, I want thee. Do not go away and leave me. Do not cross to the eating-room of the women and children. Eat with me."
"It has not been heard of in the Middle Kingdom for a woman to eat with a man."
"Nevertheless, it shall be. Come!"
Dong-Yung entered slowly. The light in this dim room was all gathered upon the person of Foh-Kyung, in the gleaming patterned roses of his gown, in his deep amethyst ring, in his eyes. Dong-Yung came because of his eyes. She crossed the room slowly, swaying with that peculiar grace of small-footed women, till she stood at the table beside Foh-Kyung. She was now even more afraid than when he would have cast the kitchen gods into the fire. They were but gods, kitchen gods, that he was about to break; this was the primeval bondage of the land, ancient custom.
"Give me thy hand and look up with thine eyes and thy heart."
Dong-Yung touched his hand. Foh-Kyung looked up as if he saw into the ether beyond, and there saw a spirit vision of ineffable radiance. But Dong-Yung watched him. She saw him transfigured with an inner light. His eyes moved in prayer. The exaltation spread out from him to her, it tingled through their finger-tips, it covered her from head to foot.
Foh-Kyung dropped her hand and moved. Dong-Yung leaned nearer.
"I, too, would believe the Jesus way."
In the peculiar quiet of mid-afternoon, when the shadows begin to creep down from the eaves of the pagodas and zigzag across the rice-fields to bed, Foh-Kyung and Dong-Yung arrived at the camp-ground of the foreigners. The lazy native streets were still dull with the end of labor. At the gate of the camp-ground the rickshaw coolies tipped down the bamboo shafts, to the ground. Dong-Yung stepped out quickly, and looked at her lord and master. He smiled.
"Nay, I do not fear," Dong-Yung answered, with her eyes on his face. "Yet this place is strange, and lays a coldness around my heart."
"Regard not their awkward ways," said Foh-Kyung as he turned in at the gate; "in their hearts they have the secret of life."
The gate-keeper bowed, and slipped the coin, warm from Foh-Kyung's hand, into his ready pocket.
"Walk beside me, little Wife of my Heart." Foh-Kyung stopped in the wide graveled road and waited for Dong-Yung. Standing there in the sunlight, more vivid yet than the light itself, in his imperial yellow robes, he was the end of life, nay, life itself, to Dong-Yung. "We go to the house of the foreign priest to seek until we find the foreign God. Let us go side by side."
Dong-Yung, stepping with slow, small-footed grace, walked beside him.
"My understanding is as the understanding of a little child, beloved Teacher; but my heart lies like a shell in thy hand, its words but as the echo of thine. My honor is great that thou do not forget me in the magnitude of the search."
Dong-Yung's pleated satin skirts swayed to and fro against the imperial yellow of Foh-Kyung's robe. Her face colored like a pale spring blossom, looked strangely ethereal above her brocade jacket. Her heart still beat thickly, half with fear and half with the secret rapture of their quest and her lord's desire for her.
Foh-Kyung took a silken and ivory fan from an inner pocket and spread it in the air. Dong-Yung knew the fan well. It came from a famous jeweler's on Nanking Road, and had been designed by an old court poet of long ago. The tiny ivory spokes were fretted like ivy-twigs in the North, but on the leaves of silk was painted a love-story of the South. There was a tea-house, with a maiden playing a lute, and the words of the song, fantastic black ideographs, floated off to the ears of her lover. Foh-Kyung spread out its leaves in the sun, and looked at it and smiled.
"Never is the heart of man satisfied," he said, "alone. Neither when the willow fuzz flies in the spring, or when the midnight snow silvers the palms. Least of all is it satisfied when it seeks the presence of God above. I want thee beside me."
Dong-Yung hid her delight. Already for the third time he said those words—those words that changed all the world from one of a loving following-after to a marvelous oneness.
So they stepped across the lawn together. It was to Dong-Yung as if she stepped into an unknown land. She walked on flat green grass. Flowers in stiff and ordered rows went sedately round and round beneath a lurid red brick wall. A strange, square-cornered, flat-topped house squatted in the midst of the flat green grass. On the lawn at one side was a white-covered table, with a man and a woman sitting beside it. The four corners of the table-cloth dripped downward to the flat green grass. It was all very strange and ugly. Perhaps it was a garden, but no one would have guessed it. Dong-Yung longed to put each flower plant in a dragon bowl by itself and place it where the sun caught its petals one by one as the hours flew by. She longed for a narrow, tile-edged path to guide her feet through all that flat green expanse. A little shiver ran over her. She looked back, down the wide graveled way, through the gate, where the gate-keeper sat, tipped back against the wall on his stool, to the shop of the money-changer's opposite. A boy leaned half across the polished wood counter and shook his fist in the face of the money-changer. "Thou thief!" he cried. "Give me my two cash!" Dong-Yung was reassured. Around her lay all the dear familiar things; at her side walked her lord and master. And he had said they were seeking a new freedom, a God of love. Her thoughts stirred at her heart and caught her breath away.
The foreigners rose to greet them. Dong-Yung touched the hand of an alien man. She did not like it at all. The foreign-born woman made her sit down beside her, and offered her bitter, strong tea in delicate, lidless cups, with handles bent like a twisted flower-branch.
"I have been meaning to call for a long time, Mrs. Li," said the foreign-born woman.
"The great wife will receive thee with much honor," Dong-Yung answered.
"I am so glad you came with your husband."
"Yes," Dong-Yung answered, with a little smile. "The customs of the foreign born are pleasant to our eyes."
"I am glad you like them," said the foreign-born woman. "I couldn't bear not to go everywhere with my husband."
Dong-Yung liked her suddenly on account of the look that sprang up a moment in her eyes and vanished again. She looked across at the priest, her husband, a man in black, with thin lips and seeing eyes. The eyes of the foreign woman, looking at the priest, her husband, showed how much she loved him. "She loves him even as a small wife loves," Dong-Yung thought to herself. Dong-Yung watched the two men, the one in imperial yellow, the one in black, sitting beside each other and talking. Dong-Yung knew they were talking of the search. The foreign-born woman was speaking to her again.
"The doctor told me I would die if I came to China; but John felt he had a call. I would not stand in his way."
The woman's face was illumined.
"And now you are very happy?" Dong-Yung announced.
"And now I am very happy; just as you will be very happy."
"I am always happy since my lord took me for his small wife." Dong-Yung matched her happiness with the happiness of the foreign-born woman, proudly, with assurance. In her heart she knew no woman, born to eat bitterness, had ever been so happy as she in all the worlds beneath the heavens. She looked around her, beyond the failure of the foreign woman's garden, at the piled, peaked roofs of China looking over the wall. The fragrance of a blossoming plum-tree stole across from a Chinese courtyard, and a peach-branch waved pink in the air. A wonder of contentment filled Dong-Yung.
All the while Foh-Kyung was talking. Dong-Yung turned back from all the greenness around her to listen. He sat very still, with his hands hid in his sleeves. The wave-ridged hem of his robe—blue and green and purple and red and yellow—was spread out decorously above his feet. Dong-Yung looked and looked at him, so still and motionless and so gorgeously arrayed. She looked from his feet, long, slim, in black satin slippers, and close-fitting white muslin socks, to the feet of the foreign priest. His feet were huge, ugly black things. From his feet Dong-Yung's eyes crept up to his face, over his priestly black clothes, rimmed with stiff white at wrist and throat. Yes, his face was even as the face of a priest, of one who serves between the gods and men, a face of seeing eyes and a rigid mouth. Dong-Yung shuddered.
"And so we have come, even as the foreign-born God tells us, a man and his wife, to believe the Jesus way."
Foh-Kyung spoke in a low voice, but his face smiled. Dong-Yung smiled, too, at his open, triumphant declarations. She said over his words to herself, under her breath, so that she would remember them surely when she wanted to call them back to whisper to her heart in the dark of some night. "We two, a man and his wife"—only dimly, with the heart of a little child, did Dong-Yung understand and follow Foh-Kyung; but the throb of her heart answered the hidden light in his eyes.
The foreign-born priest stood up. The same light shone in his eyes. It was a rapture, an exaltation. Suddenly an unheard-of-thing happened. The outside kingdom woman put her arms around Dong-Yung! Dong-Yung was terrified. She was held tight against the other woman's shoulder. The foreign-born woman used a strange perfume. Dong-Yung only half heard her whispered words.
"We are like that, too. We could not be separated. Oh, you will be happy!"
Dong-Yung thought of the other woman. "In her heart she is humble and seemly. It is only her speech and her ways that are unfitting."
"We are going into the chapel a moment," said the priest. "Will you come, too?"
Dong-Yung looked at Foh-Kyung, a swift upward glance, like the sudden sweep of wings. She read his answer in his eyes. He wanted her to come. Not even in the temple of the foreign-born God did he wish to be without her.
A coolie called the foreign-born woman away.
The priest, in his tight trousers, and jacket, black and covered with a multitude of round flat buttons, stood up, and led the way into the house and down a long corridor to a closed door at the end. Dong-Yung hurried behind the two men. At the door the priest stood aside and held it open for her to pass in first. She hesitated. Foh-Kyung nodded.
"Do not think fearful things, little Princess," he whispered. "Enter, and be not afraid. There is no fear in the worship of Jesus."
So Dong-Yung crossed the threshold first. Something caught her breath away, just as the chanting of the dragon priests always did. She took a few steps forward and stood behind a low-backed bench. Before her, the light streamed into the little chapel through one luminous window of colored glass above the altar. It lay all over the gray-tiled floor in roses and sunflowers of pink and gold. A deep purple stripe fell across the head of the black-robed priest. Dong-Yung was glad of that. It made his robe less hideous, and she could not understand how one could serve a god unless in beautiful robes. On the altar beneath the window of colored flowers were two tall silver candlesticks, with smooth white tapers. A wide-mouthed vase filled with Chinese lilies stood between them. The whole chapel was faintly fragrant with their incense. So even the foreign-born worshipers lit candles, and offered the scent of the lilies to their spirit God. Truly, all the gods of all the earth and in the sky are lovers of lit candles and flowers. Also, one prays to all gods.
The place was very quiet and peaceful, mottled with the gorgeous, flowerlike splashes of color. The waiting candles, the echoes of many prayers, the blossoms of worship filled the tiny chapel. Dong-Yung liked it, despite herself, despite the strangeness of the imageless altar, despite the clothes of the priest. She stood quite still behind the bench flooded and filled with an all-pervading sense of happiness.
Foh-Kyung and the black-robed priest walked past her, down the little aisle, to a shiny brass railing that went like a fence round before the altar. The foreign-born priest laid one hand on the railing as if to kneel down, but Foh-Kyung turned and beckoned with his chin to Dong-Yung to come. She obeyed at once. She was surprisingly unafraid. Her feet walked through the patterns of color, which slid over her head and hands, gold from the gold of a cross and purple from the robe of a king. As if stepping through a rainbow, she came slowly down the aisle to the waiting men, and in her heart and in her eyes lay the light of all love and trust.
Foh-Kyung caught her hand.
"See, I take her hand," he said to the priest, "even as you would take the hand of your wife, proud and unashamed in the presence of your God. Even as your love is, so shall ours be. Where the thoughts of my heart lead, the heart of my small wife follows. Give us your blessing."
Foh-Kyung drew Dong-Yung to her knees beside him. His face was hidden, after the manner of the foreign worshipers; but hers was uplifted, her eyes gazing at the glass with the colors of many flowers and the shapes of men and angels. She was happier than she had ever been—happier even than when she had first worshiped the ancestral tablets with her lord and master, happier even than at the feast of the dead, when they laid their food offerings on the shaven grave-mounds. She felt closer to Foh-Kyung than in all her life before.
She waited. The silence grew and grew till in the heart of it something ominous took the place of its all-pervading peace. Foh-Kyung lifted his face from his hands and rose to his feet. Dong-Yung turned, still kneeling, to scan his eyes. The black-robed priest stood off and looked at them with horror. Surely it was horror! Never had Dong-Yung really liked him. Slowly she rose, and stood beside and a little behind Foh-Kyung. He had not blessed them. Faintly, from beyond the walls of the Christian chapel came the beating of drums. Devil-drums they were. Dong-Yung half smiled at the long-known familiar sound.
"Your small wife?" said the priest. "Have you another wife?"
"Assuredly," Foh-Kyung answered. "All men have a great wife first; but this, my small wife, is the wife of my heart. Together we have come to seek and find the Jesus way."
The priest wiped his hand across his face. Dong-Yung saw that it was wet with tiny round balls of sweat. His mouth had suddenly become one thin red line, but in his eyes lay pain.
"Impossible," he said. His voice was quite different now, and sounded like bits of metal falling on stone. "No man can enter the church while living in sin with a woman other than his lawful wife. If your desire is real, put her away."
With instant response, Foh-Kyung made a stately bow.
"Alas! I have made a grievous mistake. The responsibility will be on my body. I thought all were welcome. We go. Later on, perhaps, we may meet again."
The priest spoke hurriedly.
"I do not understand your meaning. Is this belief of such light weight that you will toss it away for a sinful woman? Put her away, and come and believe."
But Foh-Kyung did not hear his words. As he turned away, Dong-Yung followed close behind her lord and master, only half comprehending, yet filled with a great fear. They went out again into the sunshine, out across the flat green grass, under the iron gateway, back into the Land of the Flowery Kingdom. Foh-Kyung did not speak until he put Dong-Yung in the rickshaw.
"Little Wife of my Heart," he said, "stop at the jeweler's and buy thee new ear-rings, these ear-rings of the sky-blue stone and sea-tears, and have thy hair dressed and thy gowns perfumed, and place the two red circles on the smile of thy cheeks. To-night we will feast. Hast thou forgotten to-night is the Feast of the Lanterns, when all good Buddhists rejoice?"
He stood beside her rickshaw, in his imperial yellow garment hemmed with the rainbow waves of the sea, and smiled down into her eyes.
"But the spirit God of love, the foreign-born spirit God?" said Dong-Yung. "Shall we feast to him, too?"
"Nay, it is not fitting to feast to two gods at once," said Foh-Kyung. "Do as I have said."
He left her. Dong-Yung, riding through the sun-splashed afternoon, buying colored jewels and flowery perfume and making herself beautiful, yet felt uneasy. She had not quite understood. A dim knowledge advanced toward her like a wall of fog. She pressed her two hands against it and held it off—held it off by sheer mental refusal to understand. In the courtyard at home the children were playing with their lighted animals, drawing their gaudy paper ducks, luminous with candle-light, to and fro on little standards set on four wheels. At the gate hung a tall red-and-white lantern, and over the roof floated a string of candle-lit balloons. In the ancestral hall the great wife had lit the red candles, speared on their slender spikes, before the tablets. In the kitchen the cooks and amahs were busy with the feast-cooking. Candles were stuck everywhere on the tables and benches. They threw little pools of light on the floor before the stove and looked at the empty niche. In the night it was merely a black hole in the stove filled with formless shadow. She wished—
"Dong-Yung, Flower in the House, where hast thou hidden the kitchen gods? Put them in their place." Foh-Kyung, still in imperial yellow, stood like a sun in the doorway.
"Put them back, little Jewel in the Hair. It is not permitted to worship the spirit God. There are bars and gates. The spirit of man must turn back in the searching, turn back to the images of plaster and paint."
Dong-Yung let the wall of fog slide over her. She dropped her resistance. She knew.
"Nay, not the spirit of man. It is but natural that the great God does not wish the importunings of a small wife. Worship thou alone the great God, and the shadow of that worship will fall on my heart."
"Nay, I cannot worship alone. My worship is not acceptable in the sight of the foreign God. My ways are not his ways."
Foh-Kyung's face was unlined and calm, yet Dong-Yung felt the hidden agony of his soul, flung back from its quest upon gods of plaster and paint.
"But I know the thoughts of thy heart, O Lord and Master, white and fragrant as the lily-buds that opened to-day. Has thy wish changed?"
"Nay, my wish is even the same, but it is not permitted to a man of two wives to be a follower of the spirit God."
Dong-Yung had known it all along. This knowledge came with no surprise. It was she who kept him from the path of his desire!
"Put back the kitchen gods," said Foh-Kyung. "We will live and believe and die even as our fathers have done. The gate to the God of love is closed."
The feast was served. In the sky one moon blotted out a world of stars. Foh-Kyung sat alone, smoking. Laughter and talk filled the women's wing. The amahs and coolies were resting outside. A thin reed of music crept in and out among the laughter and talk, from the reed flute of the cook. The kitchen was quite empty. One candle on the table sent up a long smoky tongue of flame. The fire still smoldered in the corner. A little wind shook the cypress-branches without, and carried the scent of the opened lilies into the room.
Dong-Yung, still arrayed for feasting, went to the pigskin trunk in the corner, fitted the key from her belt into the carven brass wings of the butterfly, and lifted out the kitchen gods. One in each hand, she held them, green and gold. She put them back in their niche, and lifted up a bowl of rice to their feet, and beat her head on the ground before them.
"Forgive me, O my kitchen gods, forgive my injurious hands and heart; but the love of my master is even greater than my fear of thee. Thou and I, we bar the gates of heaven from him."
When she had finished, she tiptoed around the room, touching the chairs and tables with caressing fingers. She stole out into the courtyard, and bent to inhale the lily fragrance, sweeter by night than by day. "An auspicious day," the gate-keeper had said that morning. Foh-Kyung had stood beside her, with his feet in the sunshine; she remembered the light in his eyes. She bent her head till the fingers of the lily-petals touched her cheek. She crept back through the house, and looked at Foh-Kyung smoking. His eyes were dull, even as are the eyes of sightless bronze Buddhas. No, she would never risk going in to speak to him. If she heard the sound of his voice, if he called her "little Flower of the House," she would never have the strength to go. So she stood in the doorway and looked at him much as one looks at a sun, till wherever else one looks, one sees the same sun against the sky.
In the formless shadow she made a great obeisance, spreading out her arms and pressing the palms of her hands against the floor.
"O my Lord and Master," she said, with her lips against the boards of the floor, softly, so that none might hear her—"O my Lord and Master, I go. Even a small wife may unbar the gates of heaven."
First, before she went, she cast the two kitchen gods, green and gold, of ancient plaster, into the embers of the fire. There in the morning the cook-rice amahs found the onyx stones that had been their eyes. The house was still unlocked, the gate-keeper at the feast. Like a shadow she moved along the wall and through the gate. The smell of the lilies blew past her. Drums and chants echoed up the road, and the sounds of manifold feastings. She crept away down by the wall, where the moon laid a strip of blackness, crept away to unbar the gates of heaven for her lord and master.
[Note 3: Copyright, 1918, by Margaret C. Anderson. Copyright, 1919, by The John Lane Company.]
BY SHERWOOD ANDERSON
From The Little Review
Belle Carpenter had a dark skin, grey eyes and thick lips. She was tall and strong. When black thoughts visited her she grew angry and wished she were a man and could fight someone with her fists. She worked in the millinery shop kept by Mrs. Nate McHugh and during the day sat trimming hats by a window at the rear of the store. She was the daughter of Henry Carpenter, bookkeeper in the First National Bank of Winesburg, Ohio, and lived with him in a gloomy old house far out at the end of Buckeye Street. The house was surrounded by pine trees and there was no grass beneath the trees. A rusty tin eaves-trough had slipped from its fastenings at the back of the house and when the wind blew it beat against the roof of a small shed, making a dismal drumming noise that sometimes persisted all through the night.
When she was a young girl Henry Carpenter made life almost unbearable for his daughter, but as she emerged from girlhood into womanhood he lost his power over her. The bookkeeper's life was made up of innumerable little pettinesses. When he went to the bank in the morning he stepped into a closet and put on a black alpaca coat that had become shabby with age. At night when he returned to his home he donned another black alpaca coat. Every evening he pressed the clothes worn in the streets. He had invented an arrangement of boards for the purpose. The trousers to his street suit were placed between the boards and the boards were clamped together with heavy screws. In the morning he wiped the boards with a damp cloth and stood them upright behind the dining room door. If they were moved during the day he was speechless with anger and did not recover his equilibrium for a week.
The bank cashier was a little bully and was afraid of his daughter. She, he realized, knew the story of his brutal treatment of the girl's mother and hated him for it. One day she went home at noon and carried a handful of soft mud, taken from the road, into the house. With the mud she smeared the face of the boards used for the pressing of trousers and then went back to her work feeling relieved and happy.
Belle Carpenter occasionally walked out in the evening with George Willard, a reporter on the Winesburg Eagle. Secretly she loved another man, but her love affair, about which no one knew, caused her much anxiety. She was in love with Ed Handby, bartender in Ed Griffith's Saloon, and went about with the young reporter as a kind of relief to her feelings. She did not think that her station in life would permit her to be seen in the company of the bartender, and she walked about under the trees with George Willard and let him kiss her to relieve a longing that was very insistent in her nature. She felt that she could keep the younger man within bounds. About Ed Handby she was somewhat uncertain.
Handby, the bartender, was a tall broad-shouldered man of thirty who lived in a room upstairs above Griffith's saloon. His fists were large and his eyes unusually small but his voice, as though striving to conceal the power back of his fists, was soft and quiet.
At twenty-five the bartender had inherited a large farm from an uncle in Indiana. When sold the farm brought in eight thousand dollars which Ed spent in six months. Going to Sandusky, on Lake Erie, he began an orgy of dissipation, the story of which afterward filled his home town with awe. Here and there he went throwing the money about, driving carriages through the streets, giving wine parties to crowds of men and women, playing cards for high stakes and keeping mistresses whose wardrobes cost him hundreds of dollars. One night at a resort called Cedar Point he got into a fight and ran amuck like a wild thing. With his fist he broke a large mirror in the wash-room of a hotel and later went about smashing windows and breaking chairs in dance halls for the joy of hearing the glass rattle on the floor and seeing the terror in the eyes of clerks, who had come from Sandusky to spend the evening at the resort with their sweethearts.
The affair between Ed Handby and Belle Carpenter on the surface amounted to nothing. He had succeeded in spending but one evening in her company. On that evening he hired a horse and buggy at Wesley Moyer's livery barn and took her for a drive. The conviction that she was the woman his nature demanded and that he must get her, settled upon him and he told her of his desires. The bartender was ready to marry and to begin trying to earn money for the support of his wife, but so simple was his nature that he found it difficult to explain his intentions. His body ached with physical longing and with his body he expressed himself. Taking the milliner into his arms and holding her tightly, in spite of her struggles, he kissed her until she became helpless. Then he brought her back to town and let her out of the buggy. "When I get hold of you again I'll not let you go. You can't play with me," he declared as he turned to drive away. Then, jumping out of the buggy, he gripped her shoulders with his strong hands. "I'll keep you for good the next time," he said. "You might as well make up your mind to that. It's you and me for it and I'm going to have you before I get through."
* * *
One night in January when there was a new moon George Willard, who was, in Ed Handby's mind, the only obstacle to his getting Belle Carpenter, went for a walk. Early that evening George went into Ransom Surbeck's pool room with Seth Richmond and Art Wilson, son of the town butcher. Seth Richmond stood with his back against the wall and remained silent, but George Willard talked. The pool room was filled with Winesburg boys and they talked of women. The young reporter got into that vein. He said that women should look out for themselves that the fellow who went out with a girl was not responsible for what happened. As he talked he looked about, eager for attention. He held the floor for five minutes and then Art Wilson began to talk. Art was learning the barber's trade in Cal Prouse's shop and already began to consider himself an authority in such matters as baseball, horse racing, drinking and going about with women. He began to tell of a night when he with two men from Winesburg went into a house of prostitution at the County Seat. The butcher's son held a cigar in the side of his mouth and as he talked spat on the floor. "The women in the place couldn't embarrass me although they tried hard enough," he boasted. "One of the girls in the house tried to get fresh but I fooled her. As soon as she began to talk I went and sat in her lap. Everyone in the room laughed when I kissed her. I taught her to let me alone."
George Willard went out of the pool room and into Main Street. For days the weather had been bitter cold with a high wind blowing down on the town from Lake Erie, eighteen miles to the north, but on that night the wind had died away and a new moon made the night unusually lovely. Without thinking where he was going or what he wanted to do George went out of Main Street and began walking in dimly lighted streets filled with frame houses.
Out of doors under the black sky filled with stars he forgot his companions of the pool room. Because it was dark and he was alone he began to talk aloud. In a spirit of play he reeled along the street imitating a drunken man and then imagined himself a soldier clad in shining boots that reached to the knees and wearing a sword that jingled as he walked. As a soldier he pictured himself as an inspector, passing before a long line of men who stood at attention. He began to examine the accoutrements of the men. Before a tree he stopped and began to scold. "Your pack is not in order," he said sharply. "How many times will I have to speak of this matter? Everything must be in order here. We have a difficult task before us and no difficult task can be done without order."
Hypnotized by his own words the young man stumbled along the board sidewalk saying more words. "There is a law for armies and for men too," he muttered, lost in reflection. "The law begins with little things and spreads out until it covers everything. In every little thing there must be order, in the place where men work, in their clothes, in their thoughts. I myself must be orderly. I must learn that law. I must get myself into touch with something orderly and big that swings through the night like a star. In my little way I must begin to learn something, to give and swing and work with life, with the law."
George Willard stopped by a picket fence near a street lamp and his body began to tremble. He had never before thought such thoughts as had just come into his head and he wondered where they had come from. For the moment it seemed to him that some voice outside of himself had been talking as he walked. He was amazed and delighted with his own mind and when he walked on again spoke of the matter with fervor. "To come out of Ransom Surbeck's pool room and think things like that," he whispered. "It is better to be alone. If I talked like Art Wilson the boys would understand me but they wouldn't understand what I have been thinking down here."
In Winesburg, as in all Ohio towns of twenty years ago, there was a section in which lived day laborers. As the time of factories had not yet come the laborers worked in the fields or were section hands on the railroads. They worked twelve hours a day and received one dollar for the long day of toil. The houses in which they lived were small cheaply constructed wooden affairs with a garden at the back. The more comfortable among them kept cows and perhaps a pig, housed in a little shed at the rear of the garden.
With his head filled with resounding thoughts George Willard walked into such a street on the clear January night. The street was dimly lighted and in places there was no sidewalk. In the scene that lay about him there was something that excited his already aroused fancy. For a year he had been devoting all of his odd moments to the reading of books and now some tale he had read concerning life in old world towns of the middle ages came sharply back to his mind so that he stumbled forward with the curious feeling of one revisiting a place that had been a part of some former existence. On an impulse he turned out of the street and went into a little dark alleyway behind the sheds in which lived the cows and pigs.
For a half hour he stayed in the alleyway, smelling the strong smell of animals too closely housed and letting his mind play with the strange new thoughts that came to him. The very rankness of the smell of manure in the clear sweet air awoke something heady in his brain. The poor little houses lighted by kerosene lamps, the smoke from the chimneys mounting straight up into the clear air, the grunting of pigs, the women clad in cheap calico dresses and washing dishes in the kitchens, the footsteps of men coming out of the houses and going off to the stores and saloons of Main Street, the dogs barking and the children crying—all these things made him seem, as he lurked in the darkness, oddly detached and apart from all life.
The excited young man, unable to bear the weight of his own thoughts, began to move cautiously along the alleyway. A dog attacked him and had to be driven away with stones and a man appeared at the door of one of the houses and began to swear at the dog. George went into a vacant lot and throwing back his head looked up at the sky. He felt unutterably big and re-made by the simple experience through which he had been passing and in a kind of fervor of emotion put up his hands, thrusting them into the darkness above his head and muttering words. The desire to say words overcame him and he said words without meaning, rolling them over on his tongue and saying them because they were brave words, full of meaning. "Death," he muttered, "night, the sea, fear, loveliness." George Willard came out of the vacant lot and stood again on the sidewalk facing the houses. He felt that all of the people in the little street must be brothers and sisters to him and he wished he had the courage to call them out of their houses and to shake their hands. "If there were only a woman here I would take hold of her hand and we would run until we were both tired out," he thought. "That would make me feel better." With the thought of a woman in his mind he walked out of the street and went toward the house where Belle Carpenter lived. He thought she would understand his mood and that he would achieve in her presence a position he had long been wanting to achieve. In the past when he had been with her and had kissed her lips he had come away filled with anger at himself. He had felt like one being used for some obscure purpose and had not enjoyed the feeling. Now he thought he had suddenly become too big to be used.
When George Willard got to Belle Carpenter's house there had already been a visitor there before him. Ed Handby had come to the door and calling Belle out of the house had tried to talk to her. He had wanted to ask the woman to come away with him and to be his wife, but when she came and stood by the door he lost his self-assurance and became sullen. "You stay away from that kid," he growled, thinking of George Willard, and then, not knowing what else to say, turned to go away. "If I catch you together I will break your bones and his too," he added. The bartender had come to woo, not to threaten, and was angry with himself because of his failure.
When her lover had departed Belle went indoors and ran hurriedly upstairs. From a window at the upper part of the house she saw Ed Handby cross the street and sit down on a horse block before the house of a neighbor. In the dim light the man sat motionless holding his head in his hands. She was made happy by the sight and when George Willard came to the door she greeted him effusively and hurriedly put on her hat. She thought that as she walked through the streets with young Willard, Ed Handby would follow and she wanted to make him suffer.
For an hour Belle Carpenter and the young reporter walked about under the trees in the sweet night air. George Willard was full of big words. The sense of power that had come to him during the hour in the darkness of the alleyway remained with him and he talked boldly, swaggering along and swinging his arms about. He wanted to make Belle Carpenter realize that he was aware of his former weakness and that he had changed. "You will find me different," he declared, thrusting his hands into his pockets and looking boldly into her eyes. "I don't know why but it is so. You have got to take me for a man or let me alone. That's how it is."
Up and down the quiet streets under the new moon went the woman and the boy. When George had finished talking they turned down a side street and went across a bridge into a path that ran up the side of a hill. The hill began at Waterworks Pond and climbed upwards to the Winesburg Fair Grounds. On the hillside grew dense bushes and small trees and among the bushes were little open spaces carpeted with long grass, now stiff and frozen.
As he walked behind the woman up the hill George Willard's heart began to beat rapidly and his shoulders straightened. Suddenly he decided that Belle Carpenter was about to surrender herself to him. The new force that had manifested itself in him had he felt been at work upon her and had led to her conquest. The thought made him half drunk with the sense of masculine power. Although he had been annoyed that as they walked about she had not seemed to be listening to his words, the fact that she had accompanied him to this place took all his doubts away. "It is different. Everything has become different," he thought and taking hold of her shoulder turned her about and stood looking at her, his eyes shining with pride.
Belle Carpenter did not resist. When he kissed her upon the lips she leaned heavily against him and looked over his shoulder into the darkness. In her whole attitude there was a suggestion of waiting. Again, as in the alleyway, George Willard's mind ran off into words and, holding the woman tightly, he whispered the words into the still night. "Lust," he whispered, "lust and night and women."
* * *
George Willard did not understand what happened to him that night on the hillside. Later, when he got to his own room, he wanted to weep and then grew half insane with anger and hate. He hated Belle Carpenter and was sure that all his life he would continue to hate her. On the hillside he had led the woman to one of the little open spaces among the bushes and had dropped to his knees beside her. As in the vacant lot, by the laborers' houses, he had put up his hands in gratitude for the new power in himself and was waiting for the woman to speak when Ed Handby appeared.
The bartender did not want to beat the boy, who he thought had tried to take his woman away. He knew that beating was unnecessary, that he had power within himself to accomplish his purpose without that. Gripping George by the shoulder and pulling him to his feet he held him with one hand while he looked at Belle Carpenter seated on the grass. Then with a quick wide movement of his arm he sent the younger man sprawling away into the bushes and began to bully the woman, who had risen to her feet. "You're no good," he said roughly. "I've half a mind not to bother with you. I'd let you alone if I didn't want you so much."
On his hands and knees in the bushes George Willard stared at the scene before him and tried hard to think. He prepared to spring at the man who had humiliated him. To be beaten seemed infinitely better than to be thus hurled ignominiously aside.
Three times the young reporter sprang at Ed Handby and each time the bartender, catching him by the shoulder, hurled him back into the bushes. The older man seemed prepared to keep the exercise going indefinitely but George Willard's head struck the root of a tree and he lay still. Then Ed Handby took Belle Carpenter by the arm and marched her away.
George heard the man and woman making their way through the bushes. As he crept down the hillside his heart was sick within him. He hated himself and he hated the fate that had brought about his humiliation. When his mind went back to the hour alone in the alleyway he was puzzled, and stopping in the darkness, listened, hoping to hear again the voice, outside himself, that had so short a time before put new courage into his heart. When his way homeward led him again into the street of frame houses he could not bear the sight and began to run, wanting to get quickly out of the neighborhood that now seemed to him utterly squalid and commonplace.
[Note 4: Copyright, 1919, by Harper & Brothers. Copyright, 1920, by Edwina Stanton Babcock.]
BY EDWINA STANTON BABCOCK
From Harper's Magazine
The letter came while Mr. Pawket was chopping wood. His ax rested on a stump and piles of white chips breathed fragrance around him as he stood watching the buckboard of the Rural Free Delivery wind down the country road.
The Rural Free Delivery consisted of a white horse, a creaking buckboard, and a young woman of determined manner. A Rough Rider's hat sat with an air of stern purpose on the Rural Free Delivery's dark head, and a pair of surgeon's gauntlet gloves heightened her air of official integrity.
As the buckboard approached the group of tulip-trees opposite Mr. Pawket's residence he shoved back his hat and pulled a blue-spotted handkerchief out of his hip pocket; passing the handkerchief over his face, he greeted the Rural Free Delivery:
"Hot enough fer yer?"
It was really not so very hot, but if Mr. Pawket had not asked this question he would have felt lacking in geniality. He did not, however, go forward to intercept possible mail. There was the little iron box with his name on it nailed to the tulip-tree; there was the red signal to be adjusted. It pleased Mr. Pawket to realize that the government had all this planned out for his special convenience and he was careful not to upset regime. He watched the Rural Free Delivery climb down from the buckboard, go to the little box on the tree, deposit one letter, lock the box, and set up the signal. When the ceremony was concluded Mr. Pawket came out from behind the barn. Walking with the heavy, bent-kneed tread of the life-long farmer, he leaned upon the bars by the cow-sheds.
"Many gitten 'em to-day?" he inquired.
The Rural Free Delivery climbed back into the buckboard; she pulled on the gauntlets, replying with black-eyed reserve:
"Finn's folks had two—a asthma circler and a letter from that son they thought was drownded. Mis' Sweetser's got a paper—- the one her daughter is a manicurer sends her. And there's a box yet for the Grant girl—her graduatin'-dress, I expect—seems she's too high-toned to wear anything but machine-made."
The Rural Free Delivery whipped up the white horse and the stern contours of the Rough Rider hat disappeared down the winding, shadowed road. At last Mr. Pawket, rousing from the reverie induced by news of the resurrection of Finn's boy, took down the bars and crossed the road to the post-box. Dragging from his pocket a cluster of huge barn keys, he sought among them for the infinitesimal key of the box. This small key had the appearance of coquetting with Mr. Pawket—it invariably disappeared behind the larger keys and eluded his efforts to single it out; it seemed to him flirtatious, feminine; and as he stood like an old Druid invoking the spirit of the tulip-tree, he addressed this small key with benevolent irony.
"You'm a shrimp, that's what you are," Mr. Pawket said to the key. "Nothin' but a shrimp.... Why in tarnation don't they have a key you can see?... I'd hate to lose you on a dark night, I would," eying the key severely.
But the shrimp key at least did its work, and Mr. Pawket with unconcealed feelings of wonder and concern drew forth from the box the letter. It was a large, rich-looking letter. The envelope was thin and crackly, embossed with purple designs of twisted reptiles coiling around a woman's face, and in one corner were small purple letters forming the words "Hotel Medusa." The handwriting on the envelope was bold and black, and the dark seal bore impress of a small winged form that Mr. Pawket took to be a honey-bee. He regarded the letter suspiciously, studying it from every position as he entered the kitchen door.
"Say, Mother, here's a letter. What'll I do with it?"
Mrs. Pawket came sighing from the washtub. She wrinkled her forehead as one harried by the incessant demands of the outside world. Wiping her hands on her wet apron, she took the letter, regarding it contemptuously.
"Leave it be on the parlor mantel," advised Mrs. Pawket. "The twins is comin' up the road. I can hear them hollerin' at that echo down by the swamps. Leave it be; they'll attend to it."
Mr. Pawket, having carried out this injunction, stood by the door considering whether it was worth while to go back to his chopping. The sun was in the middle of the sky; he sniffed odors of the kitchen and discerned a rich atmosphere known to his consciousness as "dinner-time."
"Now I'm here I may as well stay," he remarked to his wife. He sat heavily down in a Turkey-red-covered rocking-chair, quoting facetiously:
"Ef yer never want to be sad and sorry Just keep away from hurry and worry."
"The Rural says Finn's folks has heard from that young feller was drownded."
Mrs. Pawket raised a disapproving face from contemplating a small kettle of Irish stew, remarking, severely: "Much the Rural knows about it. She's into everybody's business."
Mr. Pawket demurred. "Well, carr'in' the mail and all, she's liable to sense a good deal. Some says she's always been foreknowledged. 'Twuz the Rural foretold the blizzit last winter; 'twuz the Rural found out Hank Jellaby's nephew was married. Wasn't it her knowed all the time who sot Mullins's barn afire? There's a good many depends on the Rural for keeping up with things."
Soon the sun was a green glare through the tulip-trees; that meant it was half past twelve, and the twins raced in. They were hoarse from intriguing with the echo in the swamp; but as they entered the gate (careful to swing it the wrong way and squeeze through) they discussed a tingling problem in mental arithmetic.
"If Mrs. Fenton gave her son two wapples" (snuffle), "and her nephew one naple" (snuffle), "and two wapples to her son's friend, reservin' one napple for herself and conservin' four rapples for the household, what would be the sum of these given napples multiplied by four?"
Reciting this appalling chorus, the twins faced their grandfather, who, poising his battered sun-hat on his knees, from the depths of his arm-chair looked proudly, if fearfully, upon them.
"Say, Gramp', kin' you answer it?" demanded the twins.
Standing before him in the kitchen doorway, they mouthed it, curly-headed, croaking synchronous challenge. They scraped their shoes on a scraper near the door; one peered furtively under a covered dish on the table while the other washed hands and face in a tin basin under the grape-arbor. Together they made strange "snorting" noises of repressed masculinity as, seizing knife and fork from the pile in the center of the table, they took seats, elbows on plates, instruments waving in air.
"Kin you answer it?"
Mr. Pawket hedged. He also drew a chair up to the table and, spearing a slice of bread with his knife, bent bushy brows.
"'Kin I answer it?' Well, that's a nice question. Would yer teacher like me to answer it? No, he wouldn't. It's for your learnin', ain't it? Not for mine. I'm all finished with them conundrums. Of course," went on Mr. Pawket, airily—"of course I never done figurin' like that when I was a boy. Them apples, now. Seems to me it all depends on the season. Ef the lady was a widder, like as not she was took advantage of. I mistrust she wouldn't be no judge of apples; not bein' a farmer, how could she know that there's years when apples is valleyble, and other years when you insult the pigs with 'em? But then—you talk about apples—Well, as for a fine apple, whether it's Northern Spy or Harvest Moon...." Thus Mr. Pawket skilfully directed the conversation into channels more familiar.
At last the twins, in a fine, concerted action of chewing, balanced large slices of buttered bread on the flats of their hands, eyed their grandparents, and, after swallowing with peculiar heavy efforts of the epiglottis, remarked, simultaneously:
"Willum is comin' home."
Mr. Pawket started. He reached for his spectacles, solemnly polished them, and put them on. Mrs. Pawket, bearing a large leaning tower of griddle-cakes toward the table, halted as one petrified.
The twins bent over their plates, humped their shoulders, observing, "That's what they all say down to the Center."
"Mr. Sykes heard it into the feedstore."
"Mis' Badger says it."
"They was all talkin' about it into the undertaker's."
"He's going to build a new house."
"His wife thinks she's goin' to like it here."
Mr. Pawket took off his spectacles. His wife! Willum with a wife?
The twins, now devouring griddle-cakes, turned on him with unmoved faces.
"It's going to be a show-place. The butcher can tell yer all about it—a grand house like a big railroad station, all gold pipes and runnin' water."
One twin turned the syrup-jug upside down; there ensued a slight scuffle between the two, each ardently attempting to hold his plate under the golden falling globules.
"They'm goin' to have five ottermobiles, and one for the cook to run herself around in; there's goin' to be one room all canary-birds, and there's goin' to be a g'rage with painted winders and a steeple like a church."
Mrs. Pawket sat down. She fanned herself with her apron.
"Set up to the table and eat, Mawther," feebly advised Mr. Pawket.
The twins, rapidly and scientifically consuming griddle-cakes, jaws working, unemotional eyes watching the effect of their statements, continued:
"They goin' to build on Cedar Plains."
"She's got the ideers."
"He's got the money."
"Just their ice-box alone is goin' to cost 'em two hundred dollars."
Mr. Pawket, with sudden irritation: "Now, now, now, that ain't sensible, that ain't. Willum had ought to have talked it over with me. I'd like to 'a' reasoned with him. I could have showed him catalogues.... And them two buildin' on Cedar Plains—it's onreasonable. It'll come hard on his wife. She won't have no near neighbors; and look at how far they'll have to go for weddin's and fun'rals and all."
Mrs. Pawket, suddenly bethinking her, rose and went into the "front" room, or parlor, where, from a large mantelpiece ranged with sugary-looking vases stuffed with brilliantly dyed grasses she plucked the recently arrived letter. Looking at it upside down and with nonchalance of disapproval, she put the letter before the twins, commanding:
"Do as Grammar tells you and read it."
"That's right," said Mr. Pawket, spooning up gravy. He retucked a kitchen towel in his neck, approving: "I don't know but what we ought to read it. There may be sumpin' in it somebody wants we should know."
The twins handled the letter casually; they attacked the superscription with glib unconcern.
"Hot-hell Medusa." began one twin, confidently.
He was instantly corrected by the other twin. "Yah—it is not Hot-hell—it's Hotel Medusa, It'ly. Yah!"
"It'ly? It'ly?" mused Mr. Pawket. "Well, I made out the I T, all right. Now I ought to 'a' guessed the rest, It'ly bein' a place I'm familiar with."
The twins were in conference.
"Medusa—you know who she was," remarked the elder twin by four seconds.
"Don't, huh? Snakes for hair—hey? Look at you and you turn into stone—hey?"
"Shut up! She did not!"
"Shut up! She did!"
But the other twin busied himself with the post-mark.
"A. Malfi," he painfully deciphered....
"Say, Gramp', what's a Malfi?"
His brother remained engrossed with the embossed head of Medusa.
"Snakes for hair—turned 'em to stone—cut off her head," he chanted, in blissful retrospect.
Mr. Pawket, reaching across the table, seized this student by the collar. "Now, now, now! Whose head you cuttin' off?"
"Hern," explained this bloodthirsty twin. "She was a bad woman."
"Hey! Hey! Hey!" roared Mr. Pawket, with sudden severity. "None of that talk here! You mind your own business, young man. Don't you give us none of that gab." He turned to Mrs. Pawket: "What did I say about that new young feller that's come to teach school? He ain't here for no good—that's what I said!" Mr. Pawket studied the face on the envelope with a sort of curious horror, concluding, "Ef she's what you say she is, see to it that you don't take no more notice of her capers."
The twins now registered aggrieved expressions; they scratched curly heads with perturbed spoons. "Medusa's hist'ry." They roared it in hurt explanation.
After some discussion of the curious anatomical outline of the supposed honey-bee on the seal, Mrs. Pawket finally slit the envelope with a dinner-knife, and the twins, holding the letter between them, gave a dashing, if slightly incorrect, reading.
"DEAR MR. AND MRS. PAWKET,—This letter is from William Folsom, the little orphan boy for whom you did so much. What do you think? This boy who boarded with you summers is coming back to America with his wife, an Italian lady you are both sure to love! On account of unforeseen business necessity, Mrs. Folsom and I are forced to give up our charming ... vill ... villain ... villy...."
Here one twin ran down. The other twin looked over his brother's shoulder, breathing thickly.
"Vanilla," he chewingly instructed.
"Vanilla ... our charming vanilla, and on account of recent dev-dev-devil-elope-ments we are leaving It'ly at once. You remember the fine old property my father owned, called Cedar Plains? As I remember, it was not far from your farm where I spent so many happy summers. It is on Cedar Plains that Mrs. Folsom and I plan to erect our new home, an I ... talian van ... vill ... v...."
"Vanilla." This time it was Mr. Pawket who blandly supplied the word.
"I shall count on you as good friends and neighbors and I am anxious to have my wife meet you. We have placed the building of our new home in the hands of an architect friend of mine who is to be on the spot until all is completed. Our beloved household furnishings have already been shipped to America and we are living for the present in this hotel. We shall come home by a somewhat cir-cus-to-us route, not arriving until our new home is ready for us. Won't you two good friends take Mr. Badgely as a boarder, and do give him that stunning old room I used to have?
"With the kindest good wishes to you both,
The twins, having completed what had been for them a daring undertaking, now looked about for release from an atmosphere grown suddenly boresome. The elder by four seconds went to the door and, affecting intense maturity, spat out from it. The younger, dipping his head in the water-butt near the leader, took a small comb from his pocket and, using the disturbed water-butt as a mirror, began parting into ideal smoothness his upward-turning locks.
The first twin, seeing his brother's back turned, dug into his pockets and, having brought out with an air of modest pride a fish-line, a morsel of gingerbread, a bit of resin, human tooth, part of a human bone, a kitten's skull, a chewed piece of gum, and an incredibly besmirched Sunday-school card, extracted from these omens a large rusty screw, which he proffered to his grandmother, muttering, "For your Everything Jar." With a sudden shame at having been seen sympathizing with the interests of a woman, this twin then seized his hat and fled whooping down the road to school, followed by his brother, who, holding between his vision and the sun a small bit of crimson glass, exulted in the contemplation of a deep red universe.
Mrs. Pawket, bundling the dinner-dishes into a pan and pouring hot water from the teakettle over them, sighed. Mr. Pawket, having again retired to the Turkey-red-covered chair, watched his wife somewhat dazedly; he was still thinking of the contents of "Willum's" letter.
"Comin' home by a cir-cus-to-us route," he soliloquized ... "and devil-elopements. I suppose he knows what he's doin', but it all sounds kindy resky to me. Did you get it that A. Malfi was his wife's maiden name? Don't it sound sorter like a actress to you? One of them sassy, tricky furriners, I'll bet. 'N' a vanilla—what call has Willum got to build a vanilla, his age? A mansion, now—I could onderstand how the boy would hanker for a mansion—he always had big feelin's, Willum had—but a vanilla! Say, you ever seen one of them there contraptions?"
Mrs. Pawket, washing the dishes, hung up the soap-shaker and cast her eyes upward as in an effort of memory. She reached for a dish-towel, replying, somewhat evasively, "Where my mother come from they had 'em a-plenty; there was one on every street."
Her husband regarded her with deep respect. "Ye don't say?"
Mrs. Pawket squeezed out the dishmop with a thoughtful air; she cast a hasty, authoritative glance at the range, banging the door shut with a decision that made Mr. Pawket jump as she snapped:
"Just the same, this here ain't no place for a vanilla. A vanilla around these parts would be the same as if you was to wear your Sunday silk hat out a-plowin'. They hain't got good judgment, them two hain't."
The old farmer regarded his wife with serious attention. Lighting his pipe, he lay back in the Turkey-red chair, puffing in silence. At last he laid the pipe down and, laboriously pulling off his boots, hummed an air which had for its sole motif the undynamic suggestion:
"By and by By and by By and by. By and by. By and by."
At last the thumping of stocking feet ceased with the drone of the drowsy voice; a bit of sunlight filtering first through the tulip-trees, then through the little low kitchen window, let it be seen that Mr. Pawket had lapsed into slumber. His wife looked at him with an expressionless face. Wringing her hands out of the dish-water, she carried the pan to the door; with contemptuous words of warning to some chickens near by, she flung the contents on the grass. Going further into the door-yard she dragged up some bleached clothing and stuffed it into a clothes-basket. Choking the range full of coal, wrenching into place a refractory coal-scuttle, she turned the damper in the stove-pipe and set the stove-plates slightly a-tilt. Then she seized the tin wash-basin, and, setting up a small mirror against the window, loosened her hair and dragged her face and head through a severe toilet whose original youthful motive of comeliness had been lost in habitual effort of tidiness. This done, Mrs. Pawket donned a clean white apron and draped around her neck a knitted orange tie which she pinned with a scarlet coral breast-pin.
Having thus dressed for the afternoon and for the feared, desired, but seldom experienced visitation called "company," Mrs. Pawket took from her pocket the screw her grandson had bestowed upon her. Suddenly, with the expression of one who in the interests of art performs dangerous acrobatic feats, she dragged a chair in front of a cupboard. Climbing, with many expressions of insecurity, on this chair, Mrs. Pawket reached a bony hand into the cupboard, groping on the top shelf for an object which her fingers approached tremulously. This object with considerable care Mrs. Pawket brought down to earth and set upon the kitchen table. It was a short, stumpy bowl or jar, upon which curious protuberances of all kinds clustered. The protuberances encircled the jar in something like the way fungus circles a tree hole, in strange and various patterns.